If you’re anything like me, your response to this headline is a howl of indignation. Somethings in this world are sacrosanct, and for us coffee-lovers, one of them is that morning cup of joe. Without it, the early hours would stretch out like a barren moonscape of misery and exhaustion, right?
Well, no, not exactly, according to science.
It’s not just that, like any addiction, you can wean yourself from caffeine if you’re truly determined. It’s also that first thing in the morning is exactly the wrong time to indulge your love of the bean.
Why? It’s all down to your circadian rhythms -- the hormonal cycle that signals to your body when to sleep and when to get up, among other things -- according to this infographic, created by self-proclaimed coffee lover Ryoko Iwata and based on the writings of Steven Miller Ph.D. Throughout the day hormones are signalling various things to your body, but one signal in particular is important for us morning coffee addicts: cortisol.
Think of cortisol as something like your body’s natural caffeine. It makes you feel awake and alert. And when does production of cortisol peak?
It might surprise groggy wakers to learn it’s actually between 8 and 9 a.m. for most of us (this may vary if you live somewhere where there is radically less or more light some times of the year). So what happens when you combine cortisol and caffeine during these hours?
It’s not just that the caffeine offers you less of a kick as you are already 'powered on, so to speak, there are also more long-term downsides to sucking down a few cups every morning. "By consuming coffee when it’s not needed, your body will build a faster tolerance to it, and the buzz you get from it will greatly diminish," the infographic concludes.
All Is Not Lost
That’s the bad news, but don’t get too depressed, there is an upside to the science. The takeaway isn’t that you should give up your morning coffee habit entirely (thankfully!). It’s just that you might want to push it back a little. If you look at your hormone levels, the ideal time to brew that first pot is just after the first jolt of cortisol subsides, generally between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m.
What if you’re an early riser and 9:30 is hours away from when your alarm clock goes off? Forbes asked Miller this very question, and he responded that early birds do get a surge of cortisol when they get up as well, though not as much as they would get if they wake-up time coincided with sunrise. The advice though is still the same. Avoid the double stimulation of cortisol plus caffeine immediately after waking and wait an hour or two for your first cup of coffee instead.
So, coffee lovers, don’t fret too much. You shouldn’t skip the caffeine entirely because of your circadian rhythms. Instead, simply adapt your coffee ritual to compliment them, alternating "cortisol time" (generally 8 to 9 a.m. and 2 to 1 p.m.) with caffeine time to get more of a jolt from your brew.